Sunday, April 10, 2016

ONE FAST FATHER


“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

-Hebrews 12:1

When the nearly 30,000 runners line up at the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts on April 18 for the 120th running of the fabled Boston Marathon, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, will be represented by one “Fast Father.”

Father Christopher M. Zelonis, 39, is a Catholic priest who resides at Saint Clare of Assisi Parish in Saint Clair and ministers to the Catholic population at the Schuylkill Medical Center, Pottsville, as well as several area nursing homes. He grew up in Saint Clair, graduated from Nativity B.V.M. High School in 1994, earned Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Allentown in 2003.

Halfway through his seminary career, in response to looming health concerns in his immediate family and personal spiritual struggles, he began to improve his previously poor habits of diet and exercise.

Walking soon graduated to running as his weight decreased and his miles increased. Aside from running a 5 mile race in the seminary, and a handful of local 5Ks near a previous assignment in Reading, Zelonis did not consider himself to be a competitive runner.

In 2009 he returned to frequent running after a hiatus. By 2012 his long runs became more frequent; on one day off he surprised himself and his mother by running to Tamaqua to meet her for dinner.

 The suggestions of friends and the sight of “26.2” bumper stickers finally convinced him to sign up for the Via Marathon, held in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which he completed in September 2013 with a time of 3:36:12.

At last year’s Pocono Run for the Red Marathon, Zelonis survived blistering temperatures, and upon crossing the finish line, earned a trip to the medical tent, a victim of heat exhaustion and dehydration.  More importantly, however, he earned a qualifying time of 3 hours, 3 minutes, 12 seconds, which qualified him for this year’s Boston Marathon.

His quest to run the Boston Marathon, however, would not come without a significant obstacle.

While visiting friends in San Antonio last summer, Zelonis embarked on a daily training run. A quarter mile from home, he stopped at an intersection, but a vehicle making a right turn did not. The car ran over his foot, the compression and torque tore his heel, and he received stitches both inside and outside of the skin.

Undeterred, he slowly built up his training mileage, recovered from the injury, and has returned to marathon-running form.

On Saturday, he competed in the Two Rivers Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile race, held in Lackawaxen. There he ran a personal best time of 1:23:29, earning a second place finish. Later in the day, he completed an “Easter Double,” as, on wobbly legs, he celebrated an Easter Vigil service.

In Boston, on Marathon Monday, thanks to superb preparation and intense dedication, Father Zelonis is certain to run his best in the race God has set before him.